CASTAIC, Calif. - It's a familiar scene for National Guard Soldiers and Airmen at the Del Valle Regional Training Center: rubble piles, precariously placed mannequins, medical tents, and decontamination stations. The scene is part of a disaster response exercise designed to prepare the California National Guard Homeland Response Force and civilian first responders to work in a collaborative effort in the event of an emergency.

The exercise, Vigilant Guard 17, which took place Nov. 14-18, called upon members of the California, Nevada and Hawaii National Guards and Federal Emergency Response Agency Region IX to respond to an earthquake in Nevada and subsequent aftershock in Los Angeles. Units participated in the exercise throughout California and Nevada. Those deployed to the Del Valle Regional Training Center practiced rescuing victims trapped in confined spaces.

"Really, the bottom line is that we build relationships with [civilian agencies] and get an understanding of how they work," 1st Lt. Eric Neubauer, the battle captain with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 579th Engineer Battalion, said. "They, in turn, have an understanding of how we work, so when an actual incident does come up, we are better prepared to respond efficiently."

The exercise not only emphasizes interagency collaboration, but also teamwork among different National Guard units as well. Scenarios throughout the exercise required engineers, military police, chemical specialists and medical personnel to work together to conduct search and rescue operations and provide aid to victims.

"It promotes camaraderie," 2nd Lt. Marta Petrenko, the 3rd platoon leader with the 235th Engineer Company (Sapper), said. "The guys on the team are really close and every time we go out and train, it just brings them closer together which promotes teamwork and makes things get done better and safer."

These units train year-round to ensure they are prepared. Tech. Sgt. Jason Ramirez, a medical logistics noncommissioned officer with the 144th Fighter Wing, said, "It's really important to continue these exercises with our civilian counterparts and National Guard brothers because this is what we are here for - to support our communities."